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Hier — 16 octobre 2021Microsoft

Dynamic Refresh Rate for Surface Pro 8, Laptop Studio begins to work

While not officially signed by Microsoft, Intel's latest drivers show that the new dynamic refresh feature is very close.

What you need to know

  • Intel's generic graphics for 10/14/2021 enable 'Dynamic Refresh Rate' for Windows 11.
  • The drivers let specific displays jump between 60 and 120 Hz automatically.
  • While it works on Surface Pro 8 and Laptop Studio, users need to install the drivers manually.
  • Once approved as stable, Microsoft will push the drivers out through Windows Update.

In June, we noted a new feature in Windows 11 called Dynamic Refresh Rate, which would allow PCs with high-refresh displays to jump dynamically between low and high-refresh based on scrolling, inking, or inactivity. We strongly hinted that new Surface products would likely embrace such technology, and sure enough, Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio both have 120 Hz screens.

Despite the underlying technology being present, Dynamic Refresh Rate is not enabled on either new Surface is something coming later via an update. Today, users on reddit spotted Intel's latest generic display drivers and noticed that upon installation, a new option now appears enabling this new display option.

We've confirmed on Surface Pro 8 that the new drivers add the option for dynamic refresh rate found under Settings > Display > Advanced Display > Choose a refresh rate. Instead of just 60 Hz or 120 Hz, there is now a third option for Dynamic (60 Hz or 120 Hz) that was not present earlier.

Users must manually install the new Intel drivers.

The feature seems to work quite well, although more testing is needed for stability and to see any oddities with the drivers.

The drivers need to be manually installed (extract drivers from the zip file, upgrade driver through Device Manager) as the .exe installer will not work.

Microsoft releases its own "Surface-approved" graphics drivers through Windows Update after it has signed off on the drivers as being stable. It also removes things like the Intel Graphics Panel, which is auto-installed with these drivers.

As a rule of thumb, most users should hold off until Microsoft releases its Surface-approved drivers. These new Intel ones could cause unforeseen issues, especially if someone picks the wrong driver to update or the drivers themselves cause a conflict.

However, the good news is it seems Dynamic Refresh Rate for Windows 11 devices (those with 90Hz or higher displays) is right around the corner. We'll likely see many more laptops announced in the coming months that support this feature, which improves inking (reduced latency) and makes scrolling and OS animations a bit smoother while also helping to mitigate the hit on battery life.

À partir d’avant-hierMicrosoft

How to upgrade Surface Pro 8's SSD and which you should buy

Upgrading your Surface Pro 8's internal storage to a larger, faster drive is easy if you know what you're doing.

Perhaps one of the most significant and welcomed changes to Surface Pro 8 — besides Thunderbolt 4 and a 120Hz display — is the arrival of a removable SSD. While designed primarily for security concerns, regular consumers can take matters into their hands to upgrade the SSD to a larger size and even gain some speed. It's a fantastic feature since you can save yourself hundreds of dollars if you plan your Surface Pro 8 purchase and SSD upgrade.

But what about the details around such a procedure? What tools do you need? Should you re-paste the thermal enclosure for the SSD? And how do you get Windows 11 onto the new SSD?

All these questions and more are answered in this new guide on how (and why) you want to upgrade your Surface Pro 8's SSD. And if you have a Surface Pro X, we have a separate, but similar guide for that one too.

Time estimate for actual upgrade: < 20 minutes.

Jump to:

Why upgrade your Surface Pro 8 SSD?

Before we begin, let us discuss why you want to upgrade the internal storage to Surface Pro 8.

There are two reasons to consider, with the first being the most obvious:

  1. You want more internal storage.
  2. You want a (slightly) faster SSD.

The first reason is self-evident. You bought a Surface Pro 8 with 128 or 256GB of storage, and you want more. Maybe you want 512GB or even 1TB.

Indeed, you could buy the 128GB Surface Pro 8 ($1,099) and, for less than $200, get to 1TB if you upgrade it yourself. If you want Microsoft to preconfigure your 1TB option, you need to drop $2,199. It even works if you want that entry-level i7/16GB/256GB model ($1,599). Tossing in a third-party 1TB SSD costs you $1,800 versus $2,199 from Microsoft.

A faster SSD is less of a reason to upgrade and should be seen as a side benefit. Typically, doubling or even quadrupling your storage also improves the read and write performance due to the parallel nature of how flash storage is accomplished. Surface Pro 8's default SSD is, at best, mid-range by today's standards. Popping in more storage could yield +500MB/s improve sequential read scores, which does make everything feel just a smidge snappier.

Which SSD to buy?

Western Digital 1TB CH SN530 SSD for $117 — what's the catch?

Picking which SSD to get for Surface Pro 8 is the tricky part. It's different from buying a standard laptop SSD as Surface Pro 8 (and Pro X) use M.2 2230 PCIe SSD, which are much smaller. The market for such chips is also much tinier, hence why I can't just point you to Amazon and tell you to buy a specific model.

The easiest to recommend is a Toshiba/Kioxia BG4 M.2 2230 PCIe SSD. It gets excellent performance, and it just works. But, Toshiba does not direct-sell to consumers. Instead, it is an OEM part that must be purchased through business channels like Dell or on eBay if you are savvy. The key is to use the product SKU to find the version you want:

  • KBG40ZNS256G TOSHIBA BG4 256G PCI-E NVME 2230 SSD (CLASS 35)
  • KBG40ZNS512G TOSHIBA BG4 512G PCI-E NVME 2230 SSD (CLASS 35)
  • KBG40ZNS1T02 TOSHIBA BG4 1TB PCI-E NVME 2230 SSD (CLASS 35)

Assuming you want to increase the storage and get faster speeds, you will want to search for KBG40ZNS256G (256GB), KBG40ZNS512G (512GB) or KBG40ZNS1T02 (1TB). Pricing at the time of writing is around $30 for 256GB, $99 for 512GB and $200 for 1TB.

The good news is the 1TB option decreased from $300 at the end of 2020 to a more affordable $200 in October 2021. The bad news is that most sellers are from China or Hong Kong, so it could take many weeks to get your purchase.

But there is now another option in 2021 that wasn't available previously: Western Digital (WD).

This part gets even trickier. You could get a Western Digital 1TB drive costing between $117 and $170, making it even a better deal than the $200 Toshiba. Plus, many sellers are based in the U.S., meaning you can get the SSD in days instead of weeks.

For this guide, I bought a "new" WD 1TB CH SN530 drive on eBay for $170. I had it in my hands in three days after ordering.

The "CH" denotes something unique about these, which is they are often used in the Xbox Series X|S. That's why so many of them are listed as "refurbished" or "pre-owned."

But there's a catch with these drives — available storage — which some eBay sellers are upfront about, e.g.:

Please also note that the usable space for this drive is 867GB (rest of the space WD already allocated to overprovisioning so it is not accessible by the user. This is done to some extent on all SSDs).

The speculation here is that allocated space is used for Xbox Series X|S storage, and it can't be recovered.

A typical 1TB SSD usually has 952GB of available storage with around 913GB available after Windows 11 is installed versus the 823GB you'll have (with Windows 11) in one of these Western Digital drives. That's a loss of about 90GB.

On the flip side, if you're jumping from 128GB (available is less than 100GB) to 823GB, you're still getting a massive upgrade. Plus, you can save around $80 versus the Toshiba chip and often get it delivered faster. I can also vouch that the SSD performance is like Toshiba's, making a choice even more difficult.

Whichever route you go, you get a considerable storage upgrade and slightly faster speeds while saving money. The question is whether you need every GB and want to save even more money. The choice is yours.

Tools

There are only a few instruments needed to swap out the Surface Pro 8 SSD, but they are crucial:

Thermal paste, a prying tool, and rubbing alcohol are not obligatory as it depends on how detailed you want to be with the replacement. Microsoft ships its SSD in a metal enclosure for protection, functioning additionally as a heat sink. It uses a small amount of thermal paste sandwiched between the drive and the casing. SSDs typically do not produce that much heat (compared to a CPU or GPU), so the benefit is likely minimal.

Some people mount the M.2 SSD directly, but it may rattle due to the thinness without the enclosure. Users can add a shim to stop the rattle or put the new SSD into the old enclosure with (or without) adding the thermal paste.

For this tutorial, I will re-use the metal sleeve and re-paste the thermal compound.

Making a Windows 11 Recovery Drive

Since the replacement SSD does not have an OS, you will need to reinstall Windows 11 after the swap. The easiest way is to load Microsoft's official Surface Pro 8 recovery files to a USB drive, as this gives you all the necessary drivers for Surface Pro 8. Doing so restores Surface Pro 8 to its factory state.

The process is simple. We're going to wipe and configure the USB drive to be bootable and then copy over the Surface Pro 8 + Windows 11 recovery files to it. Here's how:

  1. Plug your 16GB+ USB drive plugged into the Surface Pro 8.
  2. Search for Recovery Drive and launch the application.

  3. Uncheck Back up system files to the recovery drive as it is not needed.

  4. Continue with the prompts to format and wipe the drive. This process configures the USB to be used as a bootable recovery drive for Windows 11.

  5. Download the 6.4GB of Surface Pro 8 Recovery Files by entering in your Surface Pro 8 serial number (you can find that serial in the Surface app on your device or printed behind the kickstand.)

  6. Unzip and extract all the Surface Pro 8 Recovery Files to the USB drive copying over any duplicates.

Put the thumb drive to the side for now, as it will be used after swapping the SSD.

Surface Pro 8: Swapping the SSD

Now that we have the substitute SSD and necessary tools, we can replace the Surface Pro 8's storage. Ensure you have backed up any files, photos, videos, or documents before removing the old SSD.

  1. Power down Surface Pro 8 (Hold the power button down.)
  2. Open the rear SIM/SSD panel found under the kickstand using a SIM tool.

  3. Use the T3 Torx screwdriver to remove the single screw holding in the SSD.

  4. Gently lift the SSD up at a slight angle and pull the SSD towards you (wiggle it back and forth.)

If you do not plan to re-use the SSD metal enclosure, you could slide in the new SSD and secure it with the holding screw. Once completed, move on to the next section on reinstalling Windows 11.

If you want to re-use the SSD enclosure (and re-paste it), continue to these steps:

  1. Using a thin prying tool or X-ACTO knife, gently tease apart the enclosure starting from each side. It's very thin metal.

  2. Remove the old SSD.

  3. Remove old thermal paste from the inner enclosure using rubbing alcohol and Q-Tips.

  4. Remove the label/sticker from the new SSD (if there is one.)

  5. Add a tiny drop of thermal paste to the top of the SSD (1/2 a pea.)

  6. Gently smooth the paste around the entire black area of the SSD.

  7. Put the SSD back into the enclosure and close it, lightly pressing the sides to crimp it in place.
  8. Reinsert SSD enclosure into Surface Pro 8, securing it with the single set screw.
  9. Replace rear enclosure door.

Do not add a lot of thermal paste as it is not strictly needed. Nor do you need expensive thermal paste, as this is not a high-performance CPU. You want a very thin layer when spread out, as too much paste defeats the purpose.

Once completed, you should save the old SSD. Since that SSD is just your old OS and files, it'll boot right back up, were you to reinsert it back into Surface Pro 8. If you send in your Surface Pro 8 for a Microsoft warranty claim because it breaks, you'll want to put back the original drive and keep your after-market purchase as you may not get it returned.

Surface Pro 8: Reinstalling Windows 11

Now that the new SSD is in place, you need to reinstall Windows 11. It is recommended to have Surface Pro 8 plugged in for AC power during this process (don't power it on yet until step 2 below):

  1. Insert the USB thumb drive into Surface Pro 8's Type-C port (either one.)
  2. Press and hold power and volume down (-) buttons at the same time.
  3. When the Surface logo appears on screen release only the power button.
  4. Continue to hold the volume down (-) key for 10 seconds until the recovery menu appears.
  5. From the blue Windows recovery menu choose your language.
  6. On the next screen, select Recover from a drive.

  7. Follow the rest of the prompts to reinstall Windows 11.

Reinstalling Windows 11 should take about ten minutes. Windows 11 now grabs the latest cumulative updates and drivers during the install. It'll be just like when you first turned on Surface Pro 8 with the entire "out-of-box experience."

Surface Pro 8 SSD Upgrade: Benchmarks

Upgrading the Surface Pro 8 with a 1TB SSD brought two enhancements. Storage size increased from ~197GB to 823GB, which is the main point of this upgrade. Additionally, storage performance increased, which is expected.

For context, read performance is what you experience when running Windows 11 and launching apps — basically, everyday OS operations. Write speed is when you write to disk to create large files, install apps/games, and transfer data, so you don't experience it as much.

My results may vary slightly from yours due to the randomization of input/output operations, but sequential read jumped from 2,390MB/s to 2,895MB/s — a net gain of 505MB per second. Sequential write also had a modest improvement going from 1,609MB/s to 1,993 MB/s — an increase of nearly 400 MB per second.

While sequential speeds did see a significant bump, random read and write did not, although they did slightly improve.

The improved performance is not earth-shattering, but the SSDs in Surface devices are never great, to begin with (Surface Laptop Studio being the single exception). So, any bit here helps.

The best part of this update is the value. If you can spare just shy of $200 for the drive and tools, you'll have made your Surface Pro 8 much more valuable as your primary PC. Good luck!

Surface Pro 8

Basically perfect

Bottom line: Surface Pro 8 finally hits its full potential with the all-new redesign for 2021. This model is a worthwhile upgrade with Thunderbolt 4, optional LTE, 120Hz display, new haptic Slim Pen 2, 11th Gen Intel, and a new graphite colorway.

From $1,100 at Microsoft From $1,100 at Amazon From $1,100 at Best Buy

'Auto Dark Mode' is a must-have app for Windows 11 users (and it's free)

Light mode and dark mode are great, but it'd be better if Windows 11 could auto-switch them. Now you can with this free app.

When a new operating system comes around, there are always wish lists and gripes lists. While I don't have too many complaints about Windows 11 (I'm a chill person, sorry), one thing I do wish it had was the ability to switch between light and dark themes based on … whatever I want.

Luckily, the open-source community has responded with an app simply called Auto Dark Mode. The app has been out for some time with Windows 10, but a new branch on GitHub, dubbed Auto Dark Mode X, is now available. The notes mention "rewritten … from scratch to introduce new background service for more reliable theme switching and extensibility.

So, what's the big deal with this app? As you may have figured out, it can switch between Windows 11 dark and light modes based on various environmental cues. You could default to have it switch to dark mode at sunset and light mode at sunrise, or set it based on your latitude and longitude for even more accuracy. If you have a specific hour you want it to switch, you can do that too.

Perhaps my favorite feature is that you can switch modes based on your AC/DC connection status — unplug and make your OLED Windows PC switch to dark mode to save some extra battery life.

What I think makes this app so great is the sheer number of options. You can:

  • Specify wallpaper for different modes even per display if you run a multi-monitor setup
  • Delay switching if your GPU crosses a specified threshold for usage, i.e., you're gaming
  • Override the mode through a right-click on the app in Taskbar overflow
  • Force app theme, separate from the system theme
  • Separately configure Microsoft Office themes
  • App auto-updates with auto-installs and option for no notification
  • Opt-in for beta builds or stay in stable

I've been using the app for the last few days, and it's been perfect. I run light mode during the day, but around 5 PM, it auto-switches to the Windows 11 dark theme without a hitch. I've specified the Surface Pro 8 to do the same, but go to the dark theme instead if unplugged.

It's in the Microsoft Store!

The app is free, open-source, doesn't collect data, and in a new twist, even available in the Microsoft Store for Windows 11 (search for "Auto Dark Mode"). Of course, if you like it, you can send the developer (Armin Osaj) a few dollars if you think it's worth it, which I do.

One hopes that Microsoft will build this functionality into Windows 11 eventually, but until we know they are, you can at least use this app and enjoy it today instead of waiting.

Auto Dark Mode

Free at GitHub

Auto switch light and dark themes in Windows 11 with Auto Dark Mode X. This free, open-source app has a ton of options and lets you customize how and when your themes change. The older version works on Windows 10.

Surface Laptop Studio and an eGPU sound great, but are the pair practical?

Surface Laptop Studio with an eGPU seems like a good pairing ...

eGPUs promise a lot, but the technology can be demanding when you have multiple NVIDIA GPUs.

One of the cool things about having a lot of technology lying around is trying new setups that push extremes. With Surface Laptop Studio and two Thunderbolt 4 ports, the question of using an external GPU (eGPU) now becomes relevant.

The good news is it technically works, but the bad news is you could also run into issues, especially if you overcomplicate things. None of this applies to Surface Pro 8 (which I'll be doing a separate article on later), but here is what you need to know for now.

Razer Cortex X plus RTX 3080 GPU is wild

The first thing I re-learned about an eGPU is that 40Gbps is a lot, but it does have a ceiling. The ideal setup, which also makes the most sense, is to run an external display from the eGPU. Many people know that if you just run the eGPU without an external display, it needs to send the data back and forth to the Surface Laptop Studio, which reduces performance even more.

Razer Core X eGPU.

On the old Razer Core from 2016, you get four USB Type-A ports and an Ethernet. Its age notwithstanding, the Razer Core is tiny, and I like those ports. I tossed an RTX 2080Ti in it, and it worked. But the 500W power supply (375W GPU max power) was not enough to handle a wired mouse, keyboard, microphone, and webcam, some of which had RGB lighting. The result was some stuttering and the OS dropping and reconnecting some of the accessories.

I then swapped it out for the Razer Core X ($400). That has a 650W power supply (500W for GPU), and it could fit my RTX 3080, which was nice. It's also tremendously girthy at more than twice the width of Raze Core (232mm vs. 105mm) and weighs 14.2lbs (6.48kg) without the GPU installed. It's a chonky boi.

The downside with Razer Core X is it has no external ports, which I needed for my accessories.

Enter Kensington's new SD5750T Thunderbolt 4 Surface dock, which is simply delightful — I'll be reviewing this soon as well. I plugged it into the second Thunderbolt 4 port on Surface Laptop Studio, and suddenly I could plug in all my accessories while the Razer Core X handled the GPU and display output.

(Razer also sells the Core X Chroma ($500), which, yes, adds RGB lights, but also brings back those four Type-A ports, Ethernet, and bumps the PSU to 700W.)

Surface Laptop Studio + RTX 3080. Not bad!

This setup with an eGPU and TB4 dock worked well enough for our recent podcast. It's fast, too, as even with a quad-core CPU, that 3080 makes it a powerful rig.

The issues I had were just minor bugs when I disconnected and reconnected. I've had this problem before with laptops that already have an NVIDIA GPU on board, which is that sometimes the eGPU and the OS get a bit confused loading and unloading drivers.

The point is: For the most part, the setup was working, until my Laptop Studio's internal RTX A2000 GPU got the dreaded exclamation point (!) under Device Manager. I attempted to uninstall and reinstall those drivers, but that is where the real problem began.

Losing all graphics

Upon rebooting to install the NVIDIA display driver, the Surface Laptop Studio effectively blanked out after the Surface logo loaded. I tried a few recovery attempts but opted not to bother with command-line fixes because I had other things to do.

I ended up using a recovery USB and reinstalled Windows 11. Twice.

You see, I tried to do this setup again this morning to see if it was a fluke, and it was not.

Now, is it because I was running a Thunderbolt 4 dock and an eGPU? I don't know. As I said, there were a lot of moving parts here. I'm unsure why Surface Laptop Studio didn't default to the Intel Iris Xe GPU, either.

Of course, I could have micro-managed the GPUs through NVIDIA Control Panel, but to me, this defeats the purpose.

Is an eGPU and Surface Laptop Studio practical?

Surface Pro 8 and an eGPU seems more realistic for most users.

The bigger question I have is: Who is even going to try this wild setup? If you bought the Surface Laptop Studio with an RTX 3050 Ti, do you need an eGPU? I mean, sure, it's nice, but it doesn't seem very practical.

You're going to drop $400 on the Razor Core X and at least $1,000 (in today's prices) for an RTX 3070 just to make the upgrade worth it. And may your wallets be deep if you want an RTX 3080 or 3090, which push in the $2,000 to $3,000 ranges due to high demand.

Toss in another $350 if you want an excellent Thunderbolt 4 dock in the event you care about adding wired accessories, too.

Some advanced math also needs to be done as eGPUs can shave off around 20% of performance on that GPU. So an RTX 3070 behaves more like a 3060. You also need to factor in the Surface Laptop Studio's quad-core chip versus a proper desktop one. While Surface Laptop Studio earned 11,265 on 3DMark's Time Spy with an RTX 3080 eGPU, that same RTX 3080, when paired in the HP OMEN 30L and a Core i9-10900K, earned a whopping 16,470.

I don't see this as a sensible use of resources, but that's me.

Now, Surface Pro 8 is different, and so far, it's working quite well (but I need to do much more testing). I think an eGPU case for Surface Pro 8 makes much more sense since that device only has Intel Iris Xe. Even adding a 1080 Ti or something in the 20xx series would be a huge performance bump. I'll be doing a separate article on that, including my setup and experience.

I will say, the Kensington dock, so far, is the "keep it simple, stupid" approach. One cable and everything has been working beautifully on Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio. I think for most people using this kind of dock, it's the setup most will go for, and for good reasons: It's much cheaper, easier, and works every time. I can see myself using this as my daily desktop driver, and I plan to do just that.

As far as an eGPU, for me, they still fall into that category of it's so cool!, but very few people get one. A strong argument is made for just getting a darn gaming desktop for $1,400 to $3,500 (depending on the high-end GPU you get). You score more ports, a larger PSU, better thermals, and it's just more straightforward.

What about you? Do you plan on going the route of eGPU, Thunderbolt dock, or risk everything and go for both?

Kensington SD5750T Thunderbolt Dock

$370 at Microsoft

Kensington's new Thunderbolt 4 dock is certified for Surface Pro 8 and Laptop Studio. It brings 90W PD, 4 x Thunderbolt 4 ports, 4 x USB-A ports, Ethernet, audio, and an SD card slot.

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